February 11, 2015

#NMLEG Progressive Bill of the Day | 02-11-15

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Rep. Jeff Steinborn

Rep. Jeff Steinborn

Rep. Jeff Steinborn has emerged as one of the Legislature’s most ardent proponents of election modernization and voting rights during his tenure in the Roundhouse. Rep. Steinborn has previously passed a law to allow 16 and 17 year olds to work at polling sites during the election process and in 2013 passed a bill through the House that would’ve allowed 17 year old to vote in primary elections (it died in the Senate).

Keeping with his established background as a voting rights advocate, Rep. Steinborn has introduced a number of bills this year to increase electoral participation. Two of those bills were heard today in the House Government, Elections, and Indian Affairs Committee – one to establish the ability for voters to register at early voting sites and one to allow 17 year-olds (who will be 18 by Election Day) to vote in primaries.

According to the Legislative Finance Committee, Rep. Steinborn’s HB 150 — “Voter Registration and Early Voting Sites” — “would allow qualified electors to register to vote at any early voting center during primary and general elections.”

The public policy organization Demos did a great analysis a couple years back about the advantages of same-day voter registration. Here are some highlights from their report about how these laws benefit the electoral process:

Increases voter turnout. States that allow Same-Day Registration consistently lead the nation in voter participation. Four of the top five states for voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election all offered Same-Day Registration. Average voter turnout was over 10 percentage points higher in SDR states than in other states.

Eliminates arbitrary deadlines that cut off registration when voters are most interested. Many citizens become most interested and engaged with elections in the last few weeks before Election Day, when candidate debates and campaigns reach their peak. But registration deadlines may already have passed at that point. Many states unnecessarily close voter registration 25 to 30 days before an election.

Elections administrators agree that SDR does not compromise the integrity of the vote. The great majority of local elections officials in SDR states who participated in two Demos surveys reported that current fraud-prevention measures suffice to ensure the integrity of elections. SDR states impose heavy penalties for voter fraud; voters are required to show proof of residency; and voters must sign an oath attesting to their identity and citizenship. And unlike registration by mail, SDR requires eligible voters to attest to their identity face-to-face before an elections official. Election audits, with strict penalties for violations, add an additional level of verification.

Rep. Steinborn’s HB 150 was tabled on a party-line vote with every House Republican on the committee voting against it.

The other one of Rep. Steinborn’s bills heard in committee today — which thankfully passed unanimously — was HB 151, “Primary Voting for Some 17 Year-Olds.” This is basically the same bill Rep. Steinborn almost got to the Governor’s desk in 2013. Such a bill would increase life-long electoral participation by exposing young people to the democratic process earlier in their lives (a similar goal of his previous bill to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to become election workers).

“We are trying to get our young people involved in the lifelong habit of voting,” is the way Rep. Steinborn characterized it in 2013.

HB 151 now moves on to the House Judiciary Committee.